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Bob Mercer
Bob Mercer

MERCER: New regent Sutton has long record of good work

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opinion Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- There must be gray in your hair, at least at the roots, if you can remember when Bob Sutton wasn't involved in public affairs in South Dakota.

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Sutton is only 44 but it seems like he's been around forever getting things done. His latest role is the newest, and the youngest, member on the state Board of Regents.

The regents govern South Dakota's public universities. Governors appoint the members, but the state constitution sets their authority.

Sutton was chosen by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to succeed Jim Hansen of Pierre, who had been on the board since spring 1995.

A year or two ago Sutton let a governor's aide know he was interested. In January he was asked to submit a letter explaining why.

He wrote about the relationship between post-high school education and development of communities and their economies.

He also spoke with several regents including president Dean Krogman of Brookings.

On March 22 the governor announced his choice. Sutton, whose term runs into 2019, heads to Brookings for his first official meeting of the full board when they gather Tuesday night.

A few days ago he received the meeting packet. The main agenda for the three days has 29 items including executive sessions, breakfast with legislators, an open forum and a reception. There are 22 items on two committees' agendas, too.

Sutton also began a new job in January as vice president of community relations for Avera Health, the Sioux Falls-based organization of hospitals, clinics and other services in many communities in eastern and central South Dakota. He was allowed to stay in Pierre.

Sutton grew up at Hill City. He received his bachelor degree in political science and his master degree in public administration from the University of South Dakota. He has spent his professional life in public affairs, mostly in Pierre.

Most recently he was president of the South Dakota Community Foundation. Before that, president for the South Dakota Bankers Association, a vice president for Citibank in Sioux Falls, and in top posts for the South Dakota Petroleum Council and the South Dakota Association of County Officials.

He's also been chairman of the South Dakota Housing Development Authority, master of ceremony at governors' inaugurations, and a volunteer for numerous boards and groups. He and his wife, Lori, have a son and a daughter in the Pierre school system.

He didn't wait to get involved with the regents.

Last month he took part in the final round of interviews and decisions by the regents in selecting the new president for South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

"A fascinating process," he said. "That was a good way to learn how the regents work."

A week ago he gave the commencement address at Dakota State University.

"I guess I was naïve or excited," he said.

His topic was leadership. Stepping up can set a person apart, he said, and there are many opportunities across South Dakota.

He had some advice that worked for him: "Listening to others is much more important than what you have to say.

"You will have more success if you listen carefully to those around you, those who work with you, those who work for you, and those who are your clients."

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